Since the breakout Rockumentary "This is Spinal Tap" Christopher Guest and his comically-talented friends have been cranking out a series of self-satirizing, improv-driven films that have been a delight for people both inside and outside the cultures being critiqued. Analyzing everything from community theater to dog shows to metal, Guest and company have probed into the heart of the absurdity of life with a quiet wit that is almost entirely commendable.
It was with this foundational respect for their brand of satire that I went into viewing For Your Consideration. If it is possible to be too self-referential in satire, they have accomplished such a task with For Your Consideration. There are certain aspects of the film that have redeemable qualities. The exploration into the sorry state of American film criticism with the preposterously ignorant notions of Don Lake and Michael Hitchcock as the Love It/Hate It film critics could perhaps become a textbook on the necessity of informed film criticism in our country. Additionally, the portrayal of entertainment television by Fred Willard and Jane Lynch was spot-on. Unfortunately, these two brief sections of the film contained almost the whole of quality cynicism.
The driving story-line surrounding Oscar buzz and the vanquished careers of aging actors contained too much redundancy and not enough wit. Perhaps for those actors who can relate to such feelings, this was an enjoyable and accurate reflection. For the rest of us it was tiresome. For a much more accessible portrayal of the Oscar obsession in Hollywood, see the first episode of Season One of Extras entitled "Kate Winslet." This episode accomplishes what For Your Consideration seems to have wanted to accomplish without the same sense of pomposity. A major part of the genius of the Guest catalog is the company's ability to satirize cultures that people who are not a part of such cultures can relate to. Such was not the case in For Your Consideration. Instead we were left with a couple hours of trivial rambling interrupted occasionaly by the brilliance that keeps us coming back to Guest films.
It is unfortunate that For Your Consideration was overly self-referential. Perhaps this topic is too close to home for the actors, resulting in an overly informed and elitist result. We can only hope that in the future Guest and company will return to a subject that maintains a calculated distance from the subject at hand. For this is the foundation upon which they have built their empire.
This fall (projected), it seems we will have our annual English-language mainstream film that restores my faith in English-language mainstream movies. This year's candidate is Across the Universe. From Julie Taymor, who I believe showed herself to be quite skilled with both Frida and Titus is offering what seems to be a remarkably visionary exploration into the culture of the 60's.
In true artistic fashion, apparently Revolution Studios wanted to distribute a different cut of the film than what Taymor created, so she threatened to take her name off the project if her cut was not distributed. The actions of Revolution Studios are remarkably familiar to a certain couple of brothers who own a film company.
Therefore, I am greatly looking forward to Across the Universe. Perhaps it will be a massive turd, but I continue to hold out hope that American-born directors can develop a sense of art in film in the midst of the abhorrent industry surrounding us.
Many times I feel completely lost and inadequate in my commmitments to film auteurism. There are many factors in this. First, I was not alive until 1982, approximately 90 years into film-making. Second, I did not grow into such commitments until I was a Senior in college (only three years ago). This means that I have the task of catching up on ca. 110 years of films. In addition, I also have the task of attempting to keep up with new films being released around the world each year. This task is multiplied by the difficulty of gaining access to new world film in Denver, CO. All of these factors mean that I watch films in almost all free time I can gather. I even watch films at work sometimes to try to make some dent in the infinite task I have taken upon myself.
In the midst of this, from time to time, I have a desire for some mindless corporate entertainment from the american movie machine. My question is whether this is a complete compromise to being committed to auteurism. On the one hand, I understand the gravity of ever supporting the american machine. If I ever pay to see some entertaining garbage, I am contributing to the seemingly omnipotent problem of decaying american cinema. Even if I don't pay by checking movies out from the library, I am still contributing to the decay of my soul as an absorber of auteurism. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of films I watch align with the commitments I have made. It is only on rare occasion that I take in pure entertainment. I see both sides of the argument. This is why I ask...
Is there room for corporate entertainment for those of us who have committed to consuming film as art?
Of the hundreds of awards ceremonies and festivals each year, the Oscars are by far the most ethnocentric and auteur-crushing of the lot. The very notion of having a category of "Best Foreign Film" is unspeakable. This of course gives the American audience the impression that there are only three or four films created outside the US worth watching any given year. The irony is that typically quite the opposite is true, namely that there are only about three or four films created inside the US that are worth watching. Ultimately, it seems that the Oscars are a pat-each-other-on-the-back-for-mediocrity-fest. This is why I was somewhat intrigued by a few of the nominees/winners this year.
This year, the works of three mexican directors were granted nominations (here's the kicker) outside the category of best foreign film. Perhaps the least significant of these is the nomination for best supporting actress to Penelope Cruz in Volver, an actress who has enjoyed years inside the hollywood corporate machine. Of more significance is the smattering of not only nominations but wins for del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. Finally, there are the major categories that Inarritu's Babel was nominated for (Director, Film, Editing, Original Screenplay, plus others). Of course Babel did not win these most coveted prizes because they all had to go to Scorsese for his body of work.
Ultimately, these nominations do not seem too significant, but it leaves me thinking about the gravity of a batch of films made almost completely in other languages receiving such nominations. It must be recognized that with the exception of Almodovar, these directors have worked inside the US system, probably granting them a greater audience. I am not saying that the problem of the Oscars is solved. Instead, this could be a baby step. So here's the question. Is this a step in the right direction for the Academy Awards, or is this a unique event that will likely not repeat itself?
The cinema has been around for a long time, and I have seen only a minor fraction of what is great and important. However, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, I would like to suggest that the end of the first story between May and Chen in Three Times is the most romantic moment in film ever.
One of the obvious counter-references here is the final moment together between Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love. Both of these moments contain infinite subtlety and beauty. I guess it's a personal preference, but in Three Times, the combination of silence, rain and music completely shatter my heart. I was recently dining out and the song that plays in this scene was playing in the restaurant. My heart broke simply thinking about the moment in Three Times.
So the challenge emerging from this is to identify what you consider the most romantic moment on film. I gave you my top two. Beat me.
In What Time is it There?, Tsai Ming-Liang obviously betrays his French New Wave influences and tendencies with the scenes of Hsiao-Kang watching the 400 Blows. Upon watching What Time is it There? a second time, this time after seeing many other Tsai Ming-Liang films, I have come to believe that Lee Kang-Sheng is Antoine Doinel for the 21st century.
I realize this seems absurd as Antoine Doinel was/is a character and Lee Kang-Sheng is a real person. However, over the years, the distintion between Jean-Pierre Leaud and Antoine Doinel become extremely blurred. Leaud's appearances in other films outside the Doinel series seemed to reflect this. In Masculin-Feminine, although his character's name is Paul, Leaud may as well be Doinel in the film, given his character's behavior and outlook. While appearances in many other films are too brief to adequately draw similar conclusions, there is at least no discontinuity between these appearances and the character of Doinel.
This is especially the case with Leaud's brief appearance in What Time is it There? If "man in cemetery" is seen as Antoine Doinel rather than Jean-Pierre Leaud, Doinel is still following his heart to whatever depths of folly it may lead. The awkwardness of an old man hitting on Shiang-Chyi is alleviated when we recognize that this is familiar old Antoine falling in love with any woman he has the chance to bump into.
By hitting on his love interest, Jean-Pierre Leaud is passing the torch of being one of the most familiar faces of one of the most important movements in cinema in the 20th century to Lee Kang-Sheng as one of the most familiar faces of one of the most important movements in cinema in the 21st century. Kang-Sheng appears in virtually every work of Ling-Miang's, much like Leaud and Truffaut, although less freqently for Leaud and Truffaut. Kang-Sheng drives the movement of most Ling-Miang films through the largely carefree and reckless actions of his characters...much like Leaud and Truffaut. From the wacky (setting clocks to French time/getting a job driving rc boats around) to the criminal (destroying a motorcycle/stealing milk), the characters that Jean-Pierre Leaud and Lee Kang-Sheng play have a fundamental similarity about them.
This is why I believe that the inclusion of Hsiao-Kang watching the 400 blows and Jean-Pierre Leaud in What Time is it There? are more than homage from Tsai Ming-Liang. Lee Shang-Keng is Antoine Doinel for the next generation. There are some problems with this theory. Lee Kang-Sheng plays a different character in each of Tsai Ming-Liang's films. In each, he has a different type of familial relationship with Lu Yi-Ching and Miao Tien. Tsai Ming-Liang uses all three of these actors in each of these films, so Lee Kang-Sheng's reappearances are not as unique as Jean-Pierre Leaud's. However, this are indications that Truffaut and Leaud are inspirations to Tsai Ming-Liang, but he is not ripping them off. Ultimately, a case remains that the similarities as inspiration and differences as artistry leave Lee Kang-Sheng as Tsai Ming-Liang's Jean-Pierre Leaud.